History About Free Speech is a Compelling Read
By Dennis Lythgoe
"From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act" is a nicely paced history with a list of fascinating characters, starting with A. Mitchell Palmer, attorney general in the 1920s, who led a government round-up of thousands of Russian immigrants and deported 800 of them.
In 1929, books by such celebrated writers as Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner and John Dos Passos were "banned in Boston" and other places in the country.
In the '50s, a second red scare gripped the country with Sen. Joseph McCarthy the lead character, spearheading a witch hunt for "communists and queers" that will be forever remembered. So will CBS's Edward R. Murrow for taking on McCarthy for his abusive and cowardly methods.
By the end of World War II, everyone was talking about sex.
In 1953, "The Moon is Blue," a film by Otto Preminger, failed to get the government's Production Code seal of approval. The movie was a mild sex comedy with the theme of seduction but it was still booked into 2,400 theaters.
The author also tells the story of Emma Viets, chairwoman of the Kansas City censorship board, who cut scenes from Hollywood films that were not "clean and wholesome" -- including the shortening of on-screen kisses and excising the image of any woman "in the family way."
During the Reagan administration, there were major efforts to fight pornography, which was displayed in a number of different ways. (Of course, no one realized the biggest challenge would come in the 1990s when the Internet revolutionized worldwide communication.)
In telling a disturbing but important story, the author quotes former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, saying, "It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad."
No wonder the American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920, with the determination of fighting First Amendment battles. Early on, the ACLU defended Socialists, union organizers and such groups as the Klu Klux Klan and Jehovah's Witnesses. Then it was civil- rights crusaders, those charged with releasing government papers, and those accused of violating the product of terrorism, the Patriot Act.
This book is a well-researched and analytical study of the persistent arguments Americans have had regarding the First Amendment. Whatever your position on some of these varied issues, you would be hard-pressed to disagree with their importance.
Christopher Finan has produced a book that is very well-written and pitched to the average reader rather than the scholar of American political or social history.